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Sandra Passchier

Professor, Earth and Environmental Studies

Center for Environmental & Life Sciences 324
MS, University of Amsterdam
PhD, Ohio State University
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Geoscientists contribute critical insights into the processes that shape the surface of the Earth, where solid rock, water, air and life interact. My specific interests are in understanding changes in the behavior of ice-sheets and ocean circulation under different climate states using geological archives of Earth history. As a principle investigator on projects funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, I am currently targeting the stratigraphic record of West Antarctic ice behavior and its impact on sea level and ocean circulation. Under my guidance, the students in the ice and ocean sediment group carry out laboratory analyses on samples acquired through seafloor drilling. The sections linked at the bottom of this page include more information on funded projects, research activities and past and current lab members. Feel free to contact me if you have an interest in joining our group.

My teaching assignments include Sedimentology & Stratigraphy, Advanced Marine Geology, Glacial Deposits and introductory courses in the Geosciences, such as Physical Geology and Earth System History. Beyond Montclair State University, I have been a Distinguished Lecturer for the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) and an instructor in the PAIS-IODP Antarctic Summer School at Texas A&M University. I am currently part of the Science Evaluation Panel for the IODP and an Associate Editor for the international journal The Holocene. Previously I was a member of the U.S. Advisory Committee for Scientific Ocean Drilling (USAC) and the international steering committee on Antarctic Climate Evolution (SCAR-ACE).

Selected Recent Publications (*/** designates MSU graduate/undergraduate student, ^other student):

Gohl, K., Uenzelmann-Neben, G., Gille-Petzoldt, J., Hillenbrand, C.-D., Klages, J. P., Bohaty, S. M., Passchier, S., Frederichs, T. Wellner, J.S., Lamb, R., Leitchenkov, G. and IODP Expedition 379 Scientists, 2021. Evidence for a highly dynamic West Antarctic Ice Sheet during the Pliocene. Geophysical Research Letters, 48, e2021GL093103.

^Tibbett, E.J., Scher, H.D., Warny, S., Tierney, J.E., Passchier, S., Feakins, S.J., 2021. Late Eocene record of hydrology and temperature from Prydz Bay, East Antarctica, Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology,

Dunkl, I. et al. (incl. Passchier, S.), 2020. Comparability of heavy mineral data – the first interlaboratory round robin test. Earth Science Reviews,

*Kelly, A.L., Passchier, S., 2018. A sub-millennial sediment record of ice-stream retreat and meltwater storage in the Baltic Ice Lake during the Bolling-Allerod interstadial. Quaternary Science Reviews 198, 126-139,

Colleoni, F., De Santis, L., Siddoway, C.S., Bergamasco, A., Golledge, N.R., Lohmann, G., Passchier, S. and Siegert, M.J., 2018. Spatio-temporal variability of processes across Antarctic ice-bed-ocean interfaces. Nature Communications. doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-04583-0

Passchier, S., *Ciarletta, D., **Henao, V, **Sekkas, V., 2018. Sedimentary processes and facies on a high-latitude passive continental margin, Wilkes Land, East Antarctica. Geological Society of London, Special Publication, v. 475, doi:10.1144/SP475.3

Sangiorgi, F., Bijl, P., Passchier, S., Salzmann, U., Schouten, S., McKay, R., Cody, R., Pross, J., van de Flierdt, T., Bohaty, S., Levy, R., Williams, T., Escutia, C., and Brinkhuis, H., 2018. A warm Southern Ocean and retreated Wilkes Land ice sheet (East Antarctica) during the mid-Miocene. Nature Communications, doi:10.1038/s41467-017-02609-7.

Passchier, S., *Ciarletta, D., **Miriagos, T., Bijl, P., Bohaty, S., 2017. An Antarctic stratigraphic record of step-wise ice growth through the Eocene-Oligocene Transition. Geological Society of America Bulletin, Vol. 129, doi: 10.1130/B31482.1.

For a complete publication list check out my CV or Google Scholar page


The ice and ocean sediment group analyses geological archives to determine the effects of ice-sheet change on sea level and ocean circulation. Sedimentological and geochemical laboratory methods are employed to inform reconstructions of weathering, provenance (igneous and metamorphic source rocks), depositional environments, and the energy of currents through time. Grain-size distributions, mineralogy and major and trace element composition of the detrital fraction of sediment samples are collected along depth transects exposed in outcrops and drillcores. Furthermore, time series based on sedimentary cyclicity are analyzed to assess variability in the drivers and rates of ice sheet, ocean, and sea level change.


Office Hours


12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm


Research Projects

West Antarctic Ice-sheet Change and Paleoceanography in the Amundsen Sea Across the Pliocene Climatic Optimum

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is the most vulnerable polar ice mass to warming and already a major contributor to global mean sea level rise. Its fate in the light of prolonged warming is a topic of major uncertainty. Accelerated sea level rise from ice mass loss in the polar regions is a major concern as a cause of increased coastal flooding affecting millions of people. This project will disclose a unique geological archive buried beneath the seafloor off the Amundsen Sea, Antarctica, which will reveal how the West Antarctic Ice Sheet behaved in a warmer climate in the past. The data and insights can be used to inform ice-sheet and ocean modeling used in coastal policy development. The project will also support the development of a competitive U.S. STEM workforce. Online class exercises for introductory geology classes will provide a gateway for qualified students into undergraduate research programs and this project will enhance the participation of women in science by funding the education of current female Ph.D. students.

The project targets the long-term variability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet over several glacial-interglacial cycles in the early Pliocene sedimentary record drilled by the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 379 in the Amundsen Sea. Data collection includes 1) the sand provenance of ice-rafted debris and shelf diamictites and its sources within the Amundsen Sea and Antarctic Peninsula region; 2) sedimentary structures and sortable silt calculations from particle size records and reconstructions of current intensities and interactions; and 3) the bulk provenance of continental rise sediments compared to existing data from the Amundsen Sea shelf with investigations into downslope currents as pathways for Antarctic Bottom Water formation. The results are analyzed within a cyclostratigraphic framework of reflectance spectroscopy and colorimetry (RSC) and X-ray fluorescence scanner (XRF) data to gain insight into orbital forcing of the high-latitude processes. The early Pliocene Climatic Optimum (PCO) ~4.5-4.1 Ma spans a major warm period recognized in deep-sea stable isotope and sea-surface temperature records. This period also coincides with a global mean sea level highstand of > 20 m requiring contributions in ice mass loss from Antarctica. The following hypotheses will be tested: 1) that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet retreated from the continental shelf break through an increase in sub iceshelf melt and iceberg calving at the onset of the PCO ~4.5 Ma, and 2) that dense shelf water cascaded down through slope channels after ~4.5 Ma as the continental shelf became exposed during glacial terminations. The project will reveal for the first time how the West Antarctic Ice Sheet operated in a warmer climate state prior to the onset of the current “icehouse” period ~3.3 Ma.

Timing and Spatial Distribution of Antarctic Ice Sheet Growth and Sea-ice Formation across the Eocene-Oligocene Transition

The melt of land based ice is raising global sea levels with at present only minor contributions from polar ice sheets. However, the future role of polar ice sheets in climate change is one of the most critical uncertainties in predictions of sea level rise around the globe. The respective roles of oceanic and atmospheric greenhouse forcing on ice sheets are poorly addressed with recent measurements of polar climatology, because of the extreme rise in greenhouse forcing the earth is experiencing at this time. Data on the evolution of the West Antarctic ice sheet is particularly sparse. To address the data gap, we will reconstruct the timing and spatial distribution of Antarctic ice growth through the last greenhouse to icehouse climate transition around 37 to 33 Ma. We will collect sedimentological and geochemical data on core samples from a high-latitude paleoarchive to trace the shutdown of the chemical weathering system, the onset of glacial erosion, ice rafting, and sea ice development, as East and West Antarctic ice sheets coalesced in the Weddell Sea sector and beyond. Our findings will lead to profound increases in the understanding of the role of greenhouse forcing in ice sheet development and its effect on the global climate system.